HPA Axis Activation by Ethanol Dependence in Adult and Adolescent Rats

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Chandra, Upasana


Kuhn, Cynthia Moreton

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Alcoholism is a disorder marked by cycles of heavy drinking and chronic relapse, and adolescents are an age cohort particularly susceptible to consuming large amounts of alcohol, placing them at high risk for developing an alcohol use disorder. Adolescent humans and rats voluntarily consume more alcohol than their adult counterparts, suggesting that younger consumers of alcohol may be less sensitive to its aversive effects, which are regulated by the function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) stress axis. While HPA axis dysfunction resulting from ethanol exposure has been extensively studied in adult animals, what happens in the adolescent brain remains largely unclear. In this study, chronic injections of ethanol was used to model alcohol dependence in adult and adolescent rats, and post-withdrawal anxiety behaviors were measured using light-dark box testing. Furthermore, corticosterone (CORT) release during treatment and after withdrawal was measured by collecting fecal and plasma samples from adults and adolescents. It was found that adults, but not adolescents, exhibit significant anxiety-like behavior following chronic ethanol withdrawal. Additionally, while the process of chronic ethanol treatment elicits an increase in day-by-day CORT release in both adults and adolescents, significantly sustained levels of CORT were not observed during withdrawal for either age group. Moreover, it was found that adults experience a longer-lasting CORT increase during chronic treatment, suggesting a larger and more robust period of dysfunction in the HPA axis for older consumers of alcohol. These results highlight CORT and glucocorticoids in general as a potential therapeutic target for treatment for alcoholism, especially that which has an onset during adolescence.





Chandra, Upasana (2016). HPA Axis Activation by Ethanol Dependence in Adult and Adolescent Rats. Honors thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/12480.

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